Viral Times

by Rob Warr

Chapter 3

The next day Dan let the boys sleep late, and when he finally rousted them, he told them to get dressed and meet him in the garage. Soon three wide-eyed boys greeted him as he stood beside the jeep, eager to get started.

"Instead of cooking, we're going to eat out," Dan informed them, "then we've got some errands to run, including a trip to Walmart to get Archie some clothes and shoes."

"Really? Cool?" Archie said, not at all bothered by Dan's apparent generosity.

"Oh boy, here we go," Cody chuckled, "and probably a bike," he added muttering.

"Not quite yet," Dan said, "I figure he can use my bike and you three can go riding if you get the urge. Right now I have far too much going on to worry about that."

Archie looked at Dan, and then Cody for an explanation, but it didn't come until they were buckled up and headed to town. Along the way Cody explained everything that had happened in detail as Archie listened attentively, but eventually he just had to interject.

"Man, you guys have died and gone to Heaven, you know that, right?"

"You too then," Cody said, "right Dan? Archie is one of us now too, right?"

"Yep, and I've been thinking, if there are any more friends of yours that you'd like to join us, well...we have the other bedroom, plus the pool house."

"Really, what about Fred?" Archie said quickly, looking at Cody for his reaction.

"Fred?" Dan asked, looking back in the rear view mirror for an answer.

"Fred is pretty cool. He's younger though, 13, I think. He's a black kid, is that cool?"

Dan laughed, "Why should that matter? Do I strike you as being a racist?"

"Sorry, just thought you should know. He was in Foster care for a long time, but no one wanted to adopt him and he finally got tired of being abused and ran away. He's been on the street longer than any of us. He was only 10 when he ran away from his last foster home."

"Sounds like a tough, resourceful kid if he's survived this long," Dan noted, "any idea where to find him?"

Cody looked at Archie who shrugged, then said, "Should we tell him?"

"Tell me what?"

"Yeah, we should. It's only fair," Cody said, ignoring Dan at first, then turning to Dan he went on, "Fred has a...a, well...a daddy. He lives with this old guy named Bart or Bret or something like that."

"Brad," Archie corrected, "and he's not that old, maybe 45 or something."

"So why do you think this kid would want to leave Brad and come live with us?"

"Cause he hates the sex stuff," Cody said wincing, "I mean, he only does it so he doesn't have to live on the street. He helps other kids out too, but he won't let Brad touch them, and Brad is fine with that as long as he has Fred."

Jace had kept quiet up till then, but he finally felt the need to speak up, "I think he'd like it here. He wouldn't have to do that stuff, and he'd do whatever you asked to get away from there."

"What about Brad, do you think he'll let Fred leave without a fuss?"

"He won't have no choice, besides, won't take him long to find another boy. There are lots of boys looking for a daddy to take care of em'," Archie said sounding angry.

Dan had a queasy feeling in his stomach when he thought about what some of the boys had to do to stay alive on the street. All the more reason to continue what he'd started and make sure the boys had food, and the basics, so he could keep them out of the clutches of guys like Brad.

"Well, if you guys can figure out where to find him and talk him into coming with us, I guess we can give him a trial run. The hard part will be making him believe that I'm not just another version of Brad."

"Sort of like I thought you the beginning?" Cody said, "yeah, well...maybe I can convince him."

"Okay, that's settled. We'll work on that later, but right now, how does IHOP sound?"

"Yummy," Jace said, and the other two boys agreed.

From the IHOP they went to Walmart, but they didn't spend as much time there as they had on their previous visit. Archie was easy to please, and even though he was a little taller than Cody, he wore the same size in the waist, and they were lucky enough to find pants and shorts to fit him. Dan added underwear and socks to the basket and soon they were on the way to checkouts.

"What now?" Cody asked as he buckled up in back by Archie.

"We are going to talk to the kids on the street," Dan said smiling, "and you guys are going to introduce me."

"Cool," Cody said, "but don't be surprised if they don't believe you're for real right away. It's gonna take time to win them over."

They parked in what was referred to as the Warehouse District. Before the virus this had been a bustling and booming part of the city, but now only a few of the businesses had made a comeback. Workers could be seen moving around here and there, and there were a few vehicles, mostly trucks and vans parked along the street, and it was here that a good number of the homeless sought shelter.

A few older boys were lingering around the front of a huge tin building that had once held a welding shop, and Cody pointed to them as they approached, "That's Zeke, but I don't know the other kids," he said softly.

"I think that one is Marco, but I'm not sure," Archie said, "they're older, like 16 or 17 and they don't hang with the younger kids that much."

"Hi guys," Dan said as they approached, "I'm Dan Chandler, and this is Cody, Jace, and Archie."

"Yeah, so what?" the one Cody had identified as Zeke snarled, "These your boy toys?"

"Don't be so unfriendly," a dark haired Hispanic boy said, showing white teeth, "maybe he wants some man meat to play with," he laughed.

"Hold up," Dan said frowning, "let me explain why I'm here, then we can discuss what I can do for you guys."

"We're listening man," the Hispanic boy said, "make it good amigo."

Dan delved right into things, explaining how he'd survived the plague, how he'd run across Cody and Jace, and how through them he'd brought Archie to live with them as well. He could see doubt and mistrust in the older boys' eyes, but he didn't let that stop him from revealing what he was trying to accomplish with the help of the city and as many volunteers as he could muster.

"So, you like want to give us food and clothes and stuff?" One of the boys smirked, "What's in it for you?"

"Good question," Dan said, not letting the boy's attitude dilute his own enthusiasm, "The knowledge that I did the right thing and helped those who need our help the most, you kids on the street. I know none of you want to be here, and if you could do better you would. What we're hoping to do is help you survive until you can do better. Survive without committing crimes, or selling yourself to men who could care less about you as a person. Men who only want to use you, then forget you and go home to their nice comfortable life."

Dan's words shut the older boys down quickly, and for a moment they just stood looking stunned as Dan continued.

"You don't have to take my word for it though, these boys with me are all part of this project, and they'll tell you the same thing. We are here to help, no strings attached, but we need your help if we are going to make this work. We need volunteers to collect donations of clothing, food, and other things you guys need. We need them taken to places where they can be distributed, and it's going to be an ongoing thing, not just one time only. And before you ask, what's in it for you? I'll tell you what. You will never go hungry, or without clothing and basic necessities, and if we can get this thing working like we hope, there will be safe places for you kids to go to shower, and if needed, spend the night. In addition we're arranging for free medical care for you kids, as well as a chance to continue your education. I'm working directly with the Mayor's office, the Police and Fire Departments, as well as several private individuals to make all this happen. It won't happen overnight, but with everyone's cooperation we can have parts of it up and running within a week. So, what do you guys think, do you want to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem?"

"He serious?" Zeke asked looking at the three boys with Dan.

"Yeah, Dan is a good guy, and he's not one of those guys who just uses kids and throw them away. He really cares. He took us in and he's been taking care of us ever since, but then he had this great idea to help the other kids, and pretty soon he had all these people joining up, and now it looks like it's really gonna happen. We're gonna help too. We figure the other kids will believe it's real if kids like us are part of it, so that's why we're here today talking to other kids."

"What you want us to do?" the Hispanic boy said, sounding interested.

"Talk to other kids, tell them what we're trying to do and get as many interested in helping as you can. We'll provide the food, the clothing, and the rest, we just need the kids cooperation to get it to the right places. We're gonna be using fire stations and police precincts as pick up spots, plus maybe a couple of restaurants, but eventually we hope to have several of the closed motels set up to provide the meals and stuff, plus a safe place to sleep. It's going to take a while, and a lot of work, but we feel like you kids are worth the effort. What do you say, do you agree that you're worth the effort, or are you gonna walk away and let someone else do all the work?"

"I'm in," one of the boys said, "I got nothin' else to do, screw it, none of us do. It would be good to have something to do, especially if we gonna get fed."

"No problem there," Dan assured him, "in fact your first meal is on me," he said handing the boys a gift card for a popular Pizza joint. He'd purchased 50 of the cards and planned on distributing them to the street kids he talked to, then donating the rest to a local food bank.

"Pizza tonight," the Hispanic boy laughed, "No tacos?"

"Not this time," Dan laughed, "but next time I see you guys I'll make sure you get your fill of whatever food you like best."

"I'm joking man, I love me some Pizza."

"So are you guys interested in helping out?"

"Sure, no problem, but what do we need to do?"

"Talk to the other kids, here, I know I can trust you with these," Dan said handing out the gift cards, "Give one to each kid you talk to and tell them what we need. Then in a few days I want to meet with all of you right here in this spot and I'll have some people with me who will be able to coordinate this thing better than I can. How does Thursday sound?"

"Thursday is fine, what time?"

"How about noon, I'll bring the food, just have everyone here and ready to go, okay?"

"Yeah, sounds good man. How many kids you need?"

"As many as you can round up, the more kids we have helping the smoother things will go. I don't think we can have too many kids, and you older guys can sort of watch over the younger ones and make sure things are going okay."

Dan could see the older boys preening at being asked to assume some authority, and he hoped he wasn't setting himself up for problems later. He didn't want the older boys lording it over the younger ones, but he did think they needed some maturity interspersed with the youthfulness of the volunteers.

They parted after a few minutes and Dan was all smiles as they loaded back into the Jeep.

"Are we gonna go talk to more kids?" Cody asked.

"No, I think I'll let the older boys handle that. I think they'll do what I ask, but we won't really know till Thursday. Now then, any idea where Fred might be hanging out?"

"If he's not at home he's probably down by the river," Archie offered, "his man has an apartment near there, and I used to see him hanging around the park there, probably turning tricks for five bucks."

Dan frowned, "I thought he didn't like the sex stuff?"

"Oh, that. Don't get me wrong, Fred is gay, but he prefers boys his own age or maybe a little older. He only does it with men for money. With boys he does it for fun," Archie chuckled.

"Oh yeah, how do you know?" Cody said, jabbing the skinny red head in the side with his elbow.

"Just sayin', never been with him, but I know some who have."

"It's okay if you did," Cody relented, "I don't own your sorry ass."

"It's not sorry," Archie laughed, "it's happy, a happy ass."

Jace giggled and even Dan had to smile. If the boys could joke about their lives and survive, he supposed he could learn to deal with things eventually without getting all bent out of shape.

The River Park was a huge sprawling affair running several miles along the river on both sides, with bridges crossing over in various locations. On the West bank of the river, not far from the jogging trail that ran parallel to the river, there were apartments and condos, some of them upper scale and quite nice. It was in one of the more moderately priced apartments that Brad and Fred resided, and the trails and surrounding park were some of Fred's favorite places to hang out.

Dan parked the Jeep and they began walking, but after a mile or so Dan began to wonder if this was the best way to find the boy after all. Still, he was enjoying the fresh air, and it being a weekday there were very few people out, adding to his enjoyment.

They crossed the footbridge midway, and were just approaching the other side when a black boy suddenly appeared headed in their direction.

"Is that him?" Cody whispered as he tapped Archie on the shoulder.

"Might be, wait till he gets closer."

Dan's hackles went up as soon as he heard the two boys discussing the identity of the other boy, but he tried to remain calm in case they were mistaken.

"Fred?" Archie asked as the boy approached.

"Huh, yeah...that you Archie? What you doin' out here?" he asked as he approached, then giving Dan a good looking over he added, "you with him now?"

"Yeah, but not like that. He's sort of taking care of us," Archie said.

"Yeah, I know how that works. Man, he must be somethin', what with havin' three of ya'," he chuckled.

"I'm Dan," Dan interjected, "and it's not what you think. I'm sort of fostering the boys you could say, taking care of them for the time being, and making sure they're safe from the kind of guy you think I am."

"He for real?" the black boy chuckled.

"Yeah, he's a good guy, and he's helped us a lot already, and now he wants to help all the kids on the street," Cody offered.

"Cool, if you can," the boy said sounding unconvinced.

"So, how's things with you and what's his name?" Cody asked then.

"Who, Brad? You know? He feeds me and buys me stuff, but I'm naked most of the time when I'm home," he laughed sadly.

"Are you happy there?" Dan asked, not wasting any time.

"Huh, sure. I guess. I mean I don't gotta' starve, and I got a warm bed to sleep in, when he lets me sleep."

"Do you have any feelings for him?" Dan asked. He felt it was important to know as much about the situation as possible. He knew some kids became emotionally attached to their abusers and it was hard to get them away from the abuser if that was the case.

"Huh, naw. I mean he's okay. He don't beat me or anything. He's pretty nice actually, just sort of self centered I guess. He's just interested in himself mostly, but it's cool. I do okay."

"So, if you left there and went somewhere where you didn't have to do those things he asks of you? Could you be happy in a place like that?"

"Yeah, but ain't no place like that. I know what I gotta do to survive, and I got a pretty good thing goin' here."

"There is a place like that. Just ask Cody, or Jace, or Archie here."

"Yeah, that's what it's like at our house," Cody said easily, "we help with the chores and stuff, but Dan doesn't make us do that kind of stuff Brad makes you do, and it's nice there. A big place, and we even have a pool, and a park, and trails and stuff. There's even this play room with a pool table, and Foosball, and air hockey and stuff."

"What's the catch?" Fred said suspiciously.

"No catch, I promise," Cody assured him, "Why don't you come home with us and just see for yourself. If it's not what you expected or you don't like it, Dan will bring you back, right Dan?"

"Absolutely," Dan said, "I understand you being suspicious Fred, but I guarantee you'll like it there."

"Can I think about it?" the boy said frowning.

"Sure, no hurry. Do you have a phone where you stay?"

"Bettern' that, I got a cell phone. Brad bought it for me," he said proudly displaying a mid-priced smart phone

"Add my number," Dan said, then when the boy had his contacts pulled up, Dan rattled off his cell number and had the boy text him so he could add him to his contacts as well, "Now, if you decide to give us a try, just call or text, and we'll arrange to meet up."

"Okay, cool. Well, gotta go. I need to get to the store and then back before Bart gets home."

"We can run you to the store and drop you off," Dan offered, and though the boy was reluctant at first, he finally decided it wasn't that big a risk.

As they rode along, Fred bombarded the two older boys with questions about Dan and the place, and by the time they'd finally dropped him off near the apartment he was halfway convinced to give it a try. What would happen that evening would dissolve what few doubts he had about leaving however, and the following day he called Dan.

Back at the house Dan retired to his office to make some calls and send some emails while the boys stripped off their clothes and headed to the pool. At first Cody protested when Jace refused to put on swim trunks, but when Archie joined him a few minutes later, he finally gave in and went in naked as well. He supposed if Dan came out he wouldn't see much anyway, but even if he did, Cody figured it was no big deal. They'd seen each other naked before and modesty wasn't an issue anymore. After a few minutes of swimming uninhibited Cody was completely on board with swimming in the raw.

Dan finished his work in the office and started out to the pool to join the boys, but pausing at the French doors he glanced out and saw three naked boys sitting on the side of the pool and decided to remain inside. He chuckled at the thought that Jace had probably instigated this little skinny dipping party, but he had been sincere when he'd told Jace that he was fine with whatever the three of them decided as far as appropriate attire for the pool.

He hoped it wouldn't mean he was banned from the pool from now on, but he need not have worried, once the boys became comfortable in their skin, they gave no thought to Dan seeing them in the natural.

That night Fred had dinner all fixed for Brad when he got home from his job at the hospital, and was hoping Brad would be tired and not expect too much of him that night. Instead Brad was not alone, and Fred knew there wasn't going to be a quiet evening at home.

Brad didn't do it often, but sometimes he'd bring a friend home and he expected Fred to service him as well. Sometimes he only had to be part of the foreplay, and Brad and the other guy would take care of each other, but sometimes, like this evening, the guy's only interest in Brad was that he had a 13 year old boy to take care of his needs.

The man, Dick, was in Fred's estimation, just that. He cared nothing for Fred or his own feelings, and was rough and verbally abusive. Fred was tougher though, and endured the session, then serviced Brad before being allowed to go shower.

When Fred emerged from the bathroom the man was gone and Brad was snoring noisily in his bed. Fred considered sleeping on the couch, but he knew Brad expected him to be there in bed in case he needed him, and he reluctantly climbed into bed beside him. He lay there for some time, fighting back the tears, and finally made the decision that would change his life forever.

The next day when Brad left for work, Fred showered, brushed his teeth, dressed in his nicest clothes, packed the rest of his things in a suitcase that belonged to Brad, and called Dan. As an afterthought he left Brad a note but didn't go into detail. He supposed he owed the man that much, for despite his faults, Fred cared about him, and didn't want him to worry that anything bad had happened to him.

Things began to move rather quickly after Dan's visit with the street kids. The Mayor's office had been quite helpful in getting things set up for the distribution process, and the kids had come through in record numbers, eager and willing to help.

Volunteers drove the boys around to the various houses to pick up the donated goods, then helped load them in their vehicles to drop off at the designated spots in the areas where most of the homeless kids gathered. There were far fewer homeless adults than kids due to the virus, but allowances were made to feed and clothe the few adults as well, and a few of them became volunteers adding to the growing number already involved in the project.

By the end of the first month the program was a resounding success. It ran like clockwork now, and the only hungry kids on the street were those new ones who hadn't heard of the program, or those too stubborn or too proud to accept help. They were few and far between, and eventually even the proudest of them succumbed to the hunger or the cold and sought help.

Fred had moved in that same day he'd called Dan, and had been there ever since. He'd chosen to live in the pool house away from the others, for after being with Brad for so long, he needed to know he could exist on his own once again.

He enjoyed the meals with the others, and didn't mind doing his share of the work, but when it was time for bed, he was off to the pool house and the solitude that it provided.

At first Fred was unsure about swimming in the nude with the other boys, but once he figured out that Dan wasn't perving on them he took the plunge. Dan however, continued to wear trunks while swimming and no one kidded him about his choice.

Archie and Cody were closer than ever now, and Jace had finally moved into the bedroom next door so they could share a room. They officially announced that they were a couple to Dan several weeks after Archie's arrival, but Dan already had the two figured out long before that.

Dan gave the boys his blessing, and for the first time admitted that he too was gay, and that when he was their age he'd been in love with a boy named Brian. Brian had been a jock, and very popular, and didn't want anyone to know about their relationship, so they had kept it a secret until Brian's older brother had caught them making out in Brian's bedroom and threatened to tell their father if they didn't break it off.

Dan had wanted to go public and tell everyone instead of giving into blackmail, but Brian refused, and eventually broke up with him. Years later he'd met Brian again at a book signing and they'd had coffee afterwards, and Brian confessed that he had never quite gotten over Dan and that his struggle with his sexuality had kept him from becoming close to anyone since. He'd practically begged Dan to give it another try, but Dan admitted that he wasn't able to forget the hurt and torment that Brian had caused, and that he'd had his own relationship problems because of the way Brian had ended things.

They agreed to stay in touch, but after a while the phone calls, texts, and emails tapered off, and Dan forgot about his first love for awhile. Then a year ago Brian's name had come up in the local news as they reported his death due to the virus. He was a football coach at a local college by then, married with three sons, and the widow had given an interview describing Brian as a wonderful husband, a loving father, and a mentor to all the kids he coached. Dan liked to think all that was true, and that Brian had finally found himself, and found love, but he guessed he would never know.

"So, cherish what you have guys, and each other. This love you have right now, may or may not last forever, but don't give up on it if you can help it. First loves are very strong, and we tend to compare every relationship that comes after to that first love. Brian was my first love, and it still hurts to think what might have been, and how it all ended."

Cody was dripping tears, but Archie had managed to hold his in as he held Cody tightly to him, "Gosh Dan, that's so sad. Haven't you ever met anyone since then that you'd like to date or anything?"

"A few, over the years, but my past always seemed to get in the way of anything permanent or lasting. No, I guess I'm doomed to be a bachelor the rest of my life. But enough sadness, we have plenty to be thankful for, and a new romance blooming right here before our eyes. I think such a happy occasion calls for a celebration. I think you boys are old enough to partake of a little bubbly. What say you, shall we drink to the happy couple, guys?"

Dan broke out a bottle of champagne that had been chilling in the fridge for a few days and poured a half glass for each of the boys. Then offering a toast to the two lovers they took a sip. Archie made a face, then smiled and slugged the rest down, but Jace seemed to like the taste immediately and savored the cool liquid, laughing as the bubbles tickled his nose.

"Well, Jace here seems to be a connoisseur of wine," Dan chuckled.

"I like it, it's good," he agreed, "we should have this more often."

"Well, a little wine won't hurt you guys, so occasionally I'll open a bottle and let you guys taste different kinds."

Dan liked to be involved first hand with the project, and set aside two or three days a week to do so. Sometimes the boys went with him, but sometimes they stayed home, riding the trails, swimming, or doing the things they enjoyed. On one such day when the boys had begged off going, Dan's life would change once more.

They now had two of the motels up and running, providing shelter to the street kids, as well as meals and the basic essentials. For the program to work they knew they would need plenty of volunteers to run the place, but as it turned out the older street kids stepped up and filled many of those volunteer positions. Zeke and Marco, the two boys Dan had met that day in the warehouse district were among that group of street kids, and Dan and the two had eventually become friends.

That day as they worked side by side, dishing up soup and sliding sandwiches across to the seemingly never ending line of kids on the other side of the glass, they talked about this and that and got to know each other even better.

"He's new, isn't he?" Dan said after a small blond boy had passed by, giving them a nervous smile and thanking each of them effusively. Dan had noticed a few bruises on the boy's arms and he looked like he was just getting over a black eye.

"Yeah, that's Dominic, poor kid's got some problems. His old man threw him out cause he was gay, but not before beating the holy crap outta him."

"Son of a bitch," Dan hissed, "I think there should be a law that says if you hit a kid you should get twice what you gave em'."

Zeke laughed, "Dan, you're not like any adult I ever knew. No wonder those boys you got out there love you so much."

Dan blushed, he knew it was true, that the boys did love him, and he loved them back ten-fold. In fact he loved all the kids, and even knew most of them by name now.

"Hi Jamie," Dan said sliding the big boy two sandwiches, "here's one for later," Dan said winking.

"Thanks Dan," the corn-fed boy said grinning, "I gotta high metabolism," he chuckled, "it all turns to muscle though."

When he was gone, Dan addressed Zeke's last comment, "I don't think of myself as anyone special," he began, "but to be loved you have to love back, and I love all you guys."

"We love you too," Marco said grinning, "you pretty much saved all our sorry asses."

"You had a lot to do with that too, all of you. I'm so proud of the way you older boys stepped up and dived right in there. We couldn't do it without you guys. I just hope that when you move on, you'll inspire other boys to take over."

"Hey, I ain't goin' nowhere," Marco protested, "I like it here. Got my own room, three meals a day, and I'm working on my GED."

"That's great, but once you get that GED I'd like to see you get a real job, have a life, maybe find a nice girl and settle down and have five kids," Dan said grinning, "and don't beat them."

"I wouldn't man, if they turned out gay, I'd kick anyone's ass who messed with em'."

"Yeah, me too. Being gay ain't no big deal. Heck, most of us boys on the street have done gay stuff. Sex is sex, but...I wouldn't mind finding some nice girl and trying some new stuff," he laughed.

"You will, granted there aren't that many girls hanging around the streets, but if you go back to school like you planned, you might just meet the girl of your dreams."

"I dunno', what girl wants to get with a homeless kid?" he said frowning.

"One who gets to know the real Zeke. The Zeke that's sensitive, and caring, and eager to help anyone who needs it. I know you guys have to act all tough and stuff on the street, but I feel like I've gotten to know you, and I see a really beautiful person behind all that macho bullshit," Dan laughed.

"Oh, are you interested in me that way?" Zeke teased, "cause you are a good catch. I'd have a nice house and all those other boys to do my bidding."

"I'm flattered that you'd even consider it," Dan said simply, "but you're just a little too young for me. While I can appreciate and enjoy your beauty, I'm not interested in your body that way."

"It's a nice body," Zeke insisted, "ain't never had any complaints."

"But it's also the body of a 17 year old boy."

"I'll be 18 in six months," Zeke teased, "I can wait if you can."

Dan rolled his eyes, "Will you stop busting my balls and get serious? Besides, I expect you to get married and make some beautiful babies too."

"They would be that," Zeke laughed, "Hey, I was a beautiful baby. Sometime I'll show ya' my pictures when I was a kid. I got a bunch of em'."

The rest of the lunch shift went without incident, and after cleaning up, Dan sat down in the lounge area to rest a moment and check his messages. The older boys had taken off after they'd finished their part and Dan was left to his thoughts.

He had just hung up after talking to Cody back at the house, and was relieved to hear that everything was going fine there. The boys had taken an early morning bike ride, then showered and dived into the pool despite the fact that the temp was in the 50's. The pool was heated though, and as long as they stayed submersed they were okay, it was getting out and in that was a bitch.

He had just put his phone away when the door to the lobby opened, and in walked a man. Dan rose and looked the man over as he approached and he liked what he saw. The man was probably in his late 20's or early 30's, Dan guessed, with brownish hair, hazel eyes, and a nice face, and nicer smile. He was dressed in jeans and a form fitting tee, and Dan couldn't help but admire his physique. He was muscled without overdoing it, and exuded health and vitality.

"Hello," Dan said smiling at the man and getting a smile back times 10, "I'm Dan Chandler, how can I help you?"

"Hello, I'm Rick Briggs. I think you're just the man I need to see," he said offering Dan the no contact bow and clasped hands greeting.

For once Dan wished he could shake hands instead, but he returned the greeting and offered the man a seat.

"Would you like something to drink, coffee, water, a soda?"

"I'm good, thanks," Rick said settling into a chair across from Dan. He looked confident, and not the least bit nervous, and Dan wondered if he was always this way.

"So, what can I do to help you?" Dan said, hoping he didn't sound too desperate. For there were a number of things he would be willing to do to help this handsome Adonis.

"I've come to volunteer my services to your project. I'm a computer programmer by trade, but I'm also very good with my hands, and I understand that you're in the process of fixing up several of the abandoned motels for the homeless kids to live in."

"Yes, this was our first, and we have one more that's 75% complete. We're using the rooms that are finished, and the lobby, but we still have a ways to go till we're finished."

"Great, well...I'm willing to do whatever you need me to do," Rick said smiling, "and I can start today if you want."

"Wow, that's great. Why don't I take you over to the other place and let you look around and talk to the guys over there? We have a few of the guys off the street who were involved in the building trades helping out, plus some pros who volunteer and get things going. Unfortunately, most of them are so busy with paying projects that there isn't always someone there to help work out the kinks."

"My dad was a carpenter, and I worked with him from the time I was old enough to swing a hammer till I went off to college, then came back and worked each summer. I may not know everything, but I know who to ask if I run into anything I can't handle. My dad is retired, but he lives here in town and he's agreed to help too, if we need him. We almost lost him to the virus, but he's a tough old guy, in his 60's, and still going."

"That's awesome, may I ask your age? You said your dad was in his 60's, were you born late in life?"

Rick chuckled, "I know I look younger than I am, but I'm 40, I'll be 41 in January of next year."

"Wow, you're right, you do look younger."

"So, I figure we're about the same age," Rick said, looking Dan over and definitely liking what he saw. He knew Dan's age, but he wasn't revealing how, or why he knew that at the moment.

"Yep, I'll be 41 in March of next year."

"Awesome," Rick said smiling, "it's cool to know we'll be able to relate to the same things."

Dan didn't know how to take that. Was Rick planning on dating him, or was he just making conversation?

"Yeah, what kind of music do you like?" Dan asked, and soon they were talking about all the things they enjoyed, and were pleased to find they had so much in common.

"So, no significant other back at home, now or ever?" Rick asked, sniffing around for tidbits of Dan's personal life.

"Never, my first and last love didn't work out, and I guess it sort of spoiled me on love. I've been alone ever since. I traveled a lot before the virus, and when I wasn't traveling I was holed up in some out of the way place churning out stories and articles for my publisher."

"I don't want you to think I'm just sucking up to you, but I've read all your stuff. Well, except for some of the magazine articles. I like fiction better than fact."

"That's okay, I didn't enjoy writing them either," Dan chuckled, "I'm happiest when I'm creating some new character and adventure that helps me escape, and hopefully the reader as well."

"You haven't written much lately, have you?"

"A short story or two, including a story loosely based on what's happened to me the last year or so, but I've yet to submit it. I guess I'm waiting to see how it plays out," Dan said grinning.

"What about you, anyone special in your life?"

"Nope, not even a pet. I was...I guess you could say, involved with someone for a while, but it didn't work out," Rick said sounding sad, "better to find out when I did though, then after we'd committed more time to the relationship."

"Care to talk about it?"

"Maybe some other time, after we've gotten to know each other better."

Dan nodded and they drove the rest of the way in silence. Once they'd arrived at the motel, formerly a Motel 6, they climbed out and went inside. An adult volunteer named Red was manning the desk, and after Dan explained why they were there, he called someone on the phone, and soon a short chubby Hispanic man came bustling in. He wore a tool belt with a hammer and other tools of the trade ensconced in it, and he was covered in drywall dust.

"Hello, you remember me, Pedro?"

"Yes, hello Pedro. You look like you've been working hard. I hate to disturb you, but I have someone here who would like to help with the renovation. Pedro, this is Rick Briggs, Rick, Pedro Martinez," Dan said, proud he was able to remember the man's last name as well as his first.

They nodded at one another and Pedro's face lit up in a smile, "You look strong, come on, I show you what we are doing."

Dan tagged along, and though he was no expert, he could see that the crew had been doing a very good job of refitting the motel to their needs. Instead of carpet, the rooms now had tile floors which were easier to clean, since each occupant was responsible for their own cleaning. Monitors checked each room each day to make sure the kids were doing their part, and there had been very few problems in that area.

"We patch the holes, paint the walls, rip out the carpet and put down tile, then make sure the bathroom is good and no problems."

"We're having all the drapes dry cleaned at an industrial dry cleaner who is doing it at cost. It's expensive, but just one of those things that must be done, especially with the virus still lurking around," Dan added.

"Si, and we have new microwaves and mini-fridges for each one too, all donated to us by a big company."

"Yes, it's amazing how many people wanted to help once we got the word out, and what's even better is, other cities are copying our program, and to date there are 50 other programs just like it in the US."

"Wonderful, I can't wait to do my part. Could I start tomorrow?" Rick asked, looking at Pedro.

"Tomorrow is good. I will be here tomorrow, but not the next day. Can you be here at 7 o'clock?"

"7 is fine," Rick said smiling, "it was great to meet you Pedro, and I'm looking forward to getting started."

"Do you have tools?"

Rick laughed, "Yeah, my dad made sure of that. He was a carpenter, and I have all the best stuff. I'll bring my toolbox."

"Good, good...very good. If a man has the right tools, he can do anything," the Hispanic man said grinning, "I get back to work now. See you tomorrow Rick, and be ready to work," he chuckled, "there is much to do."

As they walked back to the car, Dan smiled warmly at Rick, "Pedro likes you, and he's a good judge of character."

"Oh? And how are you at judging character?" Rick asked smiling mischievously.

"Pretty good, how about you?"

"I'm an excellent judge of character, and right now my needle is way off the scale for you."

Dan blushed, "Thanks, I try to be a good person."

"Huh? You're a fricking saint," Rick chuckled, "and I must confess, doing my part to help out wasn't my only motive for volunteering. I wanted to meet the man behind all of this, and see if he was as amazing as everyone said."

"And, what did you decide?" Dan chuckled, though still blushing.

"I think you're even more amazing than I was led to believe."

"Thanks, uh, you're pretty amazing yourself," Dan stuttered, then chuckling he added, "what are we doing here? Are we flirting, or just forming a mutual admiration society?"

"I was flirting, I don't know about you," Rick said, "because one of the interesting facts I found out about you is that you're gay."

"But how? Oh...shit, that interview in Time. I'd forgotten about that one." Dan said, referring to an interview in which he had finally admitted his sexuality. He hadn't gone into any detail about past loves or his lifestyle, and there hadn't been any fury over the revelation, so he had pretty much forgotten about it. After all, the world soon had other, more important things to worry about, namely Covid-19.

"Oh, that too, but I got it from a source much closer to you," Rick said mysteriously.

"Who? As far as I know, only the boys at home know about that," Dan said looking confused.

"I don't want to get anyone in trouble, but eventually you'll figure it out, I'm sure."

"So, if you're flirting, does that mean you like me, and you'd like, what is it that people do these days?" Dan chuckled, "Go on a date or something?"

"That, or maybe you could invite me to your home for dinner. I could meet the boys, and see if they approve of me."

Alarm bells went off at first, what if Rick's only interest was getting at the boys? What if he liked younger boys and just assumed that Dan did too, and that he would share. Only one way to find out.

"I'd prefer to keep that part of my life separate for now if you don't mind. I have no problem with us getting to know each other better though, and when, and if we feel the time is right I'd love to introduce you to the boys."

"That's cool too," Rick said easily, "then how about coming back to my apartment? It's not far from here, and though I'm not much of a cook, we could grab a pizza on the way."

"All right, I think I'd like that. Just let me make a call and tell the boys I won't be home for supper. They're pretty self sufficient, in fact Cody is an excellent cook, and he's taking some online culinary courses."

Dan made the call, and without going into too much detail he said he was visiting a friend and having dinner with him. Cody didn't seem too concerned and assumed it was probably one of the volunteers, and technically he was right. Dan told them to expect him around ten, then ended the call.

"He didn't give you the third degree?" Rick chuckled, "Good boy, probably up to something himself then."

"Yeah, well...he has a live in boyfriend, so they're usually up to something, if you know what I mean," Dan laughed.

"Oh my, what about the other two, are they a couple?"

"No, but they've become quite close. More like brothers though. Fred had a rough time of it on the street. He lived with a man who used him for sex and often loaned him to his friends," Dan said, watching Rick for his reaction.

"Son of a bitch, I'd kill the son of a bitch," Rick muttered while clinching his fists, "How the hell do people like that live with themselves?"

"They're really not all that different from everyone else if you really think about it. From what Fred has told me, he wasn't a horrible person, but he was a self-centered prick. He didn't treat Fred bad, didn't whip him, or starve him, and I guess he felt like Fred owed him the piece of flesh he took from him. He was mostly drunk or high when he brought his buddies into it, and Fred said he always seemed ashamed or guilty afterwards and didn't touch him for a few days afterwards. The last time though was too much for Fred, and he packed up and left him. He's been with us ever since. He lives in the pool house, all alone, but he's spending more and more time with the other boys now, and I hope that eventually he will move inside into the spare bedroom, and join the family."

"That's so awful, but I'm glad he found you guys," Rick said, wiping a tear from his eye, "sorry if I sounded like a mad man just now. It's just that I can't stand it when I hear about kids getting hurt. That's why I decided to volunteer. Until I read about your project I just did what most people do and gave money to charities, and hoped they did the work I couldn't. Then I saw one of your public service announcements on TV begging people to give their time and help out, and I am."

"Just like that? But what about all that bull about wanting to meet me, and finding out I was gay before hand?"

Rick blushed, "I feel almost creepy when I talk about this, but after I saw that ad, I couldn't get you out of my head. I remembered that you were a writer, and I knew I'd read some of your stuff, then I started reading everything of yours that I could find, and then I Googled you and that took me to Wikipedia. Did you know you have a huge section there and they're adding stuff all the time?"

Dan blushed, "Oh god, is nothing sacred?"

"No, are," Rick laughed, "So I did some more research, and I made a few phone calls, and I found out that you actually worked down there with the other volunteers a few times each week. I began to hang around, asking questions and stuff, and discovered when you'd be working next. That's when I met a guy named Zeke and he was more than willing to talk about you."

"Oh man, is he the one who told you I was gay?" Dan chuckled, "he's always hitting on me and joking around about us getting together."

"Or is he? Joking, I mean?" Rick asked, "I think Zeke really likes you that way, but he's sort of torn by his feelings. I think he might like girls too, but from the way he talked, he's never been with one."

"Yeah, but he wants to. Oh man, I hope he's not crushing on me, that could be awkward."

"Maybe if you were seeing someone..."

"Dan laughed, "Like you?"

"Yeah, I'm available," Rick said grinning.

They finally arrived at Rick's apartment and Dan was pleased to see it was one of the nicer complexes near the River. Once inside, Dan looked around and he liked what he saw. The place was neat and clean, with minimal accessorizing, and what little there was was tastefully done.

"This is nice, it fits your personality."

"Thanks, when Kevin moved out..." he said, then took a deep breath, ", well...I didn't want anything to remind me of him so I redid the entire place."

"I sense a story there, and I hope eventually we'll be close enough for you to share it with me."

"Yeah, it's still sort of a tender spot right now," Rick said, then perking up he said, "Come here, I want to show you the view."

Leading Dan to a curtained sliding glass door, he pulled the drapes and opened the door to reveal a balcony that overlooked the river.

"Wow, what a view. I love it."

"Yeah, me too. Sometimes I sit out here for hours and just watch the boats on the river or the people in the park."

"A voyeur?" Dan teased, "ever see anything interesting?"

"Occasionally, but mostly it's just folks getting on with life. Back when the virus was raging, there were fewer folks out there, and the few who ventured out kept well away from each other. It was sad in a way, but those who did venture out gave me hope. They found a way to keep on living and not let the virus win."

"Yeah, it was touch and go for awhile, but there haven't been any new cases in over two months now. I think we've finally got it beat, but we still need to keep our guard up. Social distancing isn't necessary, but the basic hygiene rules still apply."

"So? Does that mean no kissing?" Rick chuckled.

"No kissing strangers maybe," Dan said grinning, "and we're not strangers now, are we?"

"No," Rick said softly, leaning into Dan, who met him half way.

It all began with a kiss, but that was only the beginning.

Dan continued to see Rick on the sly for the next couple of weeks, spending more time in town on the pretense that the second motel was nearing completion and his help was needed. The boys didn't seem to mind, but they did become a little suspicious when he didn't invite them to come help him like he usually did.

"What do you think Dan is really up to?" Cody asked Archie as they floated in the pool clinging to one another's naked body. Fred and Jace were in the game room and Fred was teaching Jace to play pool, since Fred was quite proficient at the game.

"Hmm...dunno, who cares?" Archie said reaching down to wrap his hand around the spongy appendage bobbing around between them.

"Stop," Cody giggled, "you're gonna make a mess in the pool.

"Okay, but later," Archie said, leaning in and kissing his boyfriend.

"Do you think Dan is getting tired of us?" Cody said, voicing his real fears.

"Naw, no way. He's just busy, that's all. Or...maybe he's got a boyfriend in town?" he added jokingly, not knowing how close to the truth he was.

"One of the homeless boys?" Cody said frowning.

"I was kidding, and no, not with a kid. You know Dan isn't like that, but he's a man, and he's gay, and he has needs just like we do. So, you do the math. Maybe he's hooking up with guys online or something."

"Are you kidding, as germ conscious as Dan is?" Cody laughed.

"Yeah, well...maybe he met someone, a volunteer or something."

"I don't know. I just wish he'd tell us what's going on."

"He will, when he's ready," Archie assured him, "let's get out, I'm cold, and since you won't warm me up..."

"Come on, let's go to our room and take a shower, that'll warm you up. And if it doesn't, I have something that will," Cody said grinning.

"I'm going, I'm going, you don't have to ask me twice," he said climbing out and grabbing a towel, then helping Cody out and offering him a towel as well, he grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the door.

At Rick's, he and Dan were snuggled up on the couch watching a movie on TV and sipping wine. They'd just awoke from a nap, necessitated by an energetic love making session. At this point in their relationship they were very comfortable with one another and the sex was very good, but the intimacy was even better. Dan had always been a cuddler, and Rick loved the attention, no, craved it. They seemed to fit together well, and Dan was beginning to think that he'd at long last found the man he'd been looking for all his life.

"When are you going to introduce me to your boys?" Rick asked suddenly.

They'd discussed this before, and Dan had always answered the same way, that he wasn't ready yet, but this time he had a different answer.

"How would Friday night be?"

"What? Are you teasing?" Rick said, slapping Dan on the chest.

"Dinner, my house. I assume you know the way," he chuckled, "since you were stalking me all that time."

"I was not stalking you, just researching you. You're an interesting man."

"So I've been told, and right now I'm a man in love. What I need to know is, do you feel the same way I do?" Dan said, feeling very vulnerable.

"Are you kidding? I know I haven't exactly said it out loud, but I hope I've shown you how I feel. I think I've loved you for a long time, way before we met, but that's crazy, isn't it? It's just that you're the kind of man I've dreamed of for so long. Maybe...maybe now is the time to tell you about Kevin," he said, looking nervous and sad.

"I was 39 when I met Kevin. He was a client, and I was sort of attracted to him from the beginning. He said he owned a real estate company and needed some new software to replace the old stuff. This was before the virus, and his business was booming. He said he had a dozen agents working for him and that he was quite successful. He drove a Jag, of all things, but it wasn't his money that impressed me, not even his looks, but rather his personality. Not that he wasn't a looker. He was a few years older than me, but he worked out religiously and had a body to kill for, and later I found out that he was hung like a pony."

Dan nodded, but didn't interrupt, he wanted Rick to tell things his way and didn't want to derail his train of thought.

"We didn't date right away. It took us a couple of weeks and the first date was actually a sort of business lunch. But I think it was then that we figured out that we had some chemistry. He asked me to go to a concert with him and I accepted, not knowing the concert was in Vegas and that he had booked a room for us a 5 star Hotel. I was flattered that he'd gone to all that trouble, and of course I accepted. I wasn't a prude, I'd been with a few guys and I knew the score."

"The concert was amazing and the night in the hotel was even more amazing. He was so loving and passionate, and I really thought I'd found that fairy tale love that most people look for all their lives. When we got back to town we continued to date and things just seemed to just get better and better. Six months later we decided to share an apartment and we wound up here."

"Where had he lived before that?"

"Good question, one I wouldn't find the answer to till much later. I had lived in a much cheaper apartment before that, but we decided with our combined incomes we could afford a nice place like this."

"Wait, he's in real estate and he didn't own a house?" Dan said frowning.

"Yeah, he did. I'll get to that in a minute."

"Okay, about some more wine before you go on?"

Rick nodded and Dan got up to refill their wine glasses. Then Rick began again, and Dan sipped his wine slowly as he listened.

"We'd been living together about a month when the trouble started. Kevin would stay out late sometimes and completely disappear some days and my texts and calls would go unanswered. When he finally made it home he'd assure me it was business and that he sometimes turned off his phone when with a client. I guess I was too much in love to not see the bullshit he was handing out, but eventually it got so bad that I confronted him again.

This time he told me he had some personal problems that he was dealing with, but not for me to worry, and he'd soon have things worked out and things would be back to normal. Two days later I got a call at work from some woman named Mandy asking for Kevin and I gave her his personal cell number thinking it was a client. Looking back I can't believe how stupid I was, but I guess I was looking at things through the eyes of love or something.

Eventually the calls from Mandy started coming daily, and finally one day I'd had enough. I asked her who she was and why she wanted to get hold of Kevin and she told me.

Mandy was Kevin's girlfriend, and what was worse...she had a six month child she claimed was his. When Kevin got home that evening I confronted him and the whole ugly thing came out. He'd bee seeing both of us and having sex with us both and he wasn't using protection. I was livid. Not only had he been cheating on me, but he had risked our health by having unprotected sex with both of us .

I stormed out and stayed with a friend for a few days and when I finally got back Kevin had moved out and took all his stuff, plus half of mine. The big flat screen, the expensive stereo we'd bought together, and anything else he could fine. At first I considered filing charges against him, but in the end I decided the publicity might hurt my business and I just tried to forget it. I redid the apartment as I could afford it and closed that chapter of my life. I did find out some interesting things later on however. First of all, the real estate company actually belonged to Kevin's ex wife, and as part of the divorce settlement she had gotten the house, and Kevin got to keep his 6 figure job working for his daddy-in-law. It was a huge cluster and I fell right into it. I guess that kind of soured me on love for awhile, then I found you and the rest if history."

"Oh my God, and I thought my lost love was bad. You poor guy. I don't know quite what to say, except that you didn't deserve to be treated that way, and I would never, ever lie to you or mistreat you," Dan said pulling Rick to him.

Rick began to cry then, soul shaking sobs that had the effect of cleansing his soul like nothing ever had before. They cuddled and sat on the couch for an hour or so before their aching bladders drove them to the bathroom

It was ten o'clock by then and Dan was faced with a crisis. Should he go home and dare to leave Rick alone in such a vulnerable state? Or call the boys and explain to them where he was, and why he'd been gone so much lately?

"Grab some clothes," Dan said, making a decision that he hoped he wouldn't regret, "you're coming home with me."

It was Saturday and Rick was off the next day and he and Dan had planned on meeting later in the afternoon, but this would work out even better, Dan thought. If we can get past the teasing and third degree the boys are sure to give us, Dan mused.

"Are you sure?" Rick said looking at Dan nervously.

"Yeah, I'm sure. I've never been so sure of anything in my life. Now go, get dressed and grab enough clothes for a couple of days. We'll move that dinner date with the boys up to tomorrow. How's that sound?"

"Fine, just fine," Rick said smiling and lighting up the whole room, "I won't be a minute."

Dan had just laced on his shoes when Rick appeared, dressed, and with a gym bag over his shoulder. Dan rose and they slipped on their jackets then walked downstairs to Dan's car.

"I could take my own car..."

"No need, I'm coming into town early on Monday anyway. Besides I want you right here beside me right now," Dan said reaching over to squeeze Rick's hand. Rick smiled, and for the first time in a long time he felt happy and optimistic about his future.

The boys took to Rick as if they had known him forever. Cody was actually relieved that Archie had been right, and that Dan had a boyfriend, and wasn't getting tired of them or engaged in some other nefarious activity. Jace warmed up to Rick quickly, though Fred seemed a bit standoffish. After all, except for Dan, he really hadn't been around very many adults since leaving Brad, and he was still trying to heal that part of him that had been battered.

They spent an hour or so getting acquainted, but eventually Dan suggested they all get some sleep and no one protested.

"Are you guys gonna sleep together?" Jace asked innocently, "Oh,'re boyfriends," he said grinning, "so that's okay."

"Thanks for your approval," Dan chuckled, "we'll try to keep the moaning to a minimum."

"I wish Archie and Cody would," Jace said rolling his eyes, "they get pretty loud sometimes."

The two guilty boys blushed, but laughed right along with everyone else, and it was Cody who had the last word, "You're just jealous little brother, wait till you find a boyfriend, or a girlfriend."

The visit Sunday, and dinner that night were a complete success and everyone got along famously, much to Dan's relief. He'd sweated over the boys reaction to his having a lover in his life, but in the end it seemed that the boys were relieved and happy for him. He wondered what he'd done to deserve such happiness, and he couldn't help but feel that things were going too well, and that he was due some bad luck.

When the lease on Rick's apartment was up, he moved in with Rick and the boys, and they celebrated by going out for pizza that night. Fred, who had finally warmed up to Rick, seemed like a different boy these days and was much more outgoing and spent less time in solitude. Though he still preferred to live in the pool house, he spent all his waking hours in the main house, the pool, or riding the trail on one of the bikes Dan provided, and he and Jace spent a lot of time together.

During pillow talk one night Rick breached the subject of Fred and Jace.

"Do you think that Fred and Jace, you know...fooling around?"

"I don't know, why do you ask?" Dan said with interest. He'd been so busy with the project and Rick lately that he actually felt as if he was ignoring the boys to some degree.

"Just little things. Sometimes they go off together and are gone for hours. I don't know this for a fact, but I think Jace may be sneaking out to the pool house some nights."

"Why do you think that?"

Rick sighed, "Maybe I'm just thinking about what I'd do in this situation," he chuckled, "two horny boys in the throes of puberty, and lots of opportunities."

"Do you think I should talk to them?"

"What would you say?" Rick chuckled, "Be safe?"

"That too, but mostly just tell them it's okay, and that they don't have to sneak around. I mean we certainly don't want them doing it in the open, but behind their closed bedroom doors is fine."

"You're very understanding when it comes to those boys, aren't you?"

"I try to be. I was once a boy, and I know what it's like. I knew I liked boys at a very early age, but of course I didn't understand all of it till I was around 14 or 15. By then I was fooling around with any of my friends that were willing, and making new friends when I could."

"That's so cool. My dad was pretty cool when I came out to him, but my mom didn't take the news as well. I think it was because she wanted grand kids, and suddenly I was telling her she'd never have any. She kept saying I'd grow out of it, that I'd find some nice girl, but I was 16 then, and girls didn't interest me at all."

"Yeah, I solved that problem by never coming out to my folks. In fact, unless they read that article in Time, they probably still don't know," Dan chuckled, "but we get along okay, so I guess they don't know, or don't care. I see them maybe twice a year. I worried about them a lot during the pandemic, but they holed up in their house and didn't go out till the worst was over. They had food delivered and never left the house."

"Did you ever consider bringing them live with you?"

"Yeah, at first, but when I suggested it, my dad got all bent out of shape. They've lived in the same house since I was born, and they weren't about to let the virus run them off," Dan chuckled, "so that was the end of that."

"Back to Fred and Jace, do you think Jace is gay. I mean Fred has pretty much said he is, and doesn't care who knows, but what about Jace?"

"I'm not sure, maybe he isn't sure either. I do know that he and Cody used to mess around, but I think that ended soon after they moved in, then Archie came along and they split up, so...maybe Jace missed that closeness and took up with Fred. It could be he's just having fun, and not thinking romantically."

"Yeah, probably," Rick said yawning, "Too bad I'm so tired," he said grinning, "cause all that sex talk has me horny."

"Oh no, you don't get off that easy," Dan chuckled, "you're never too tired for what I have in mind."

One afternoon while working at the motel during lunch, Dan happened to spot Dominic, the boy with the bruises, as he was coming in the door. This time he didn't seem as shy or beat down, but he was still polite, and thanked each of them as they added food to his plate.

"Can you handle this for a while?" Dan asked Zeke, "I want to talk to Dominic."

"Sure, the crowd is a lot smaller today. Since we been feeding them regularly, some of em' sleep in, or eat somewhere else with the money they get from panhandling."

Dan grabbed a soda and headed to where the boy sat at a two man table by himself.

"Can I sit down?" Dan said approaching.

"Sure, okay," the boy said blushing and looking up at Dan with bright blue eyes, "Oh,'re the man that gives out food, right?"

Dan chuckled, "Yeah, that's me. So, I'm told your name is Dominic, I'm Dan."

"The man who started this is named Dan," the boy said looking at Dan thoughtfully.

"Yeah," Dan said scratching his ear and wondering what to say next.

"That's you, right?"

Dan nodded, "Yeah, but I didn't do it alone. It took a lot of people and the kids helping out."

"Thanks," the boy said smiling, "It's nice not to be hungry and have a safe place to sleep."

"How old are you son?" Dan asked, dreading the answer.

"Ten, but I'll be 11 in May."

Jesus, Dan thought, ten, and tossed out on the street like dirty dish water. And on top of that, beaten up by the father who brought him into this world, just because he dared to admit that he was different.

"What happened to you Dominic, why are you on the street?" Dan asked, wondering if the story he had heard was accurate.

The boy shrugged, "Promise you won't get mad."

"I would never get mad at you buddy," Dan said, daring to pat the boy gently.

"Okay, well...see I told my dad something and he didn't like it and he beat me up and threw me out."

"And what was it that you told him that he didn't like?" Dan asked gently.

"That I, gay," the boy said lowering his head, his voice quivering, "are you mad?"

Dan wiped at tears that he wasn't aware that were there, and reached across the table to touch the boy gently on the arm, "No, I'm not mad. I'm sad that your father couldn't accept you for who you are, and I'm angry that he would do what he did to you. No child should ever have to go through that sort of punishment for something they have no control over."

"So, it's okay that I like boys?"

"It's fine son," Dan said smiling, "Believe it or not, you're not alone."

"Oh, okay. Are you gay sir?"

"Yes, I am, and I have a wonderful boyfriend named Rick and we are very happy together. But that's not all, I have four boys living with me, four boys from the street who are my family now. They're sort of like my sons," Dan said smiling, "and...I was wondering if you'd like to come live with us too."

"Do you guys, sex stuff together?" he asked simply. There was no fear or disgust in his voice, and Dan wondered if he'd been selling himself to men, or perhaps experimenting with other boys on the street.

"No, it's not like that. Rick and I are a committed couple and so are Archie and Cody. The other two boys, Jace and Fred are not a couple as far as I know," Dan laughed, "but Fred is gay, though I'm not sure about Jace. Rick and I are not interested in boys as far as sex goes. We are interested in helping them grow, and learn, and live a good life. I think, no, I know, that you are too young to be on the street, even though it's a much better place than it was six months ago. I haven't talked to the boys or Rick, heck in fact I hadn't even thought that was what I wanted to ask you until I sat down here and heard your story from your own lips."

"Are you sure, do you have room for me?" the boy asked, sounding a little excited.

"I have a bedroom just for you, and the boys have their own rooms, and Fred lives in a little house by the pool."

"You have a pool?" the boy asked, his blue eyes sparkling.

"Yep, and it's heated. I bet the boys are swimming right now," he chuckled.

The boy frowned, "What if they don't like me, will you send me back?"

"They will like you, trust me. They are a great bunch of boys and you'll fit right in."

"Okay," the boy said easily, "when can we go?"

"Today okay?"

"Yeah, that's good."

"Okay, finish your lunch, then go get your things, and meet me back here in an hour. That should give me time to finish cleaning up."

Dominic ate quickly and ran back to the room he'd been sharing with three other boys. There were two queen sized beds in the room, and he had shared a bed with a 13 year old boy named Jake. Jake proclaimed himself to be straight, and had never acted as if he was interested in doing anything, but Dominic figured it was just a matter of time until his hormones won out. The other two boys, on the other hand, messed around nightly and were quite loud. Sometimes Dominic envied them and longed to join in, but he was too shy to ask and they didn't seem to need anyone else at any rate.

He gathered up what few belongings he had and was just about to leave when Jake appeared from the bathroom.

"Hey, where you goin'?"

"I gotta' new place to stay," Dominic said, not wanting to explain any further.

"You're leaving me...I mean us? I thought you liked it here?"

"I did, you're nice, and I liked sharing a bed with you."

"Is it cause I won't, you know? Do stuff?"

"No, of course not. It's just a good deal for me and I can't pass it up."

"You got a daddy then? I knew it would happen. They like em' young," he huffed.

"No, it's not like that, it's like a real family," Dominic said excitedly.

"Wish I could go," Jake said looking near tears.

Dominic stood there for a moment staring at the boy, and he realized something that he hadn't before, he really liked the boy, and he was beginning to think that Jake really liked him too. He knew it wasn't his place to make the decision, but the worst that could happen was that Dan would say no, or in the worst case, send him back as well, but he had to try.

"Pack your stuff and come with me," he said, making the decision and hoping for the best.

"Are you serious, where are we going? Is it safe, is it cool?" the boy rattled off as he began to pack.

On the way back to the motel, Dominic told him about Dan, and what he had promised, and Jake became quite excited. I've seen that guy, he's really nice, and rich. I bet his house his huge, and he probably buys those boys anything they want, maybe us too."

"I don't care about that stuff, I just want a family again" Dominic said softly.

"Yeah, me too," Jake sighed, "I hope we found one."

"So who's this good looking guy?" Dan said looking Jake over. The boy was short for his age, but he was filled out and had a tight athletic body. He was brown haired, and brown eyed, with a small scar by his upper lip, lips that were full, and at the moment turned up in a smile.

"I'm Jake, I was Dommie's roomy."

"Okay, so are you his body guard too?" Dan asked, looking at Dominic for an explanation.

"I told him he could come too. I'm sorry, I know it's not my right to do that, but please, he can share my room. We already lived together and we get along just fine."

"Sure, come on you two, let's get home," Dan said simply. What was one more boy around the house? he chuckled to himself, the more the merrier.

As expected, the boys took to Dominic, who everyone called Dommie now, and Jake, and by the first week it was as if they had lived there forever. Cody was especially taken by Dommie, and after hearing his story, he became very protective of him, thinking of him as a little brother. He thought about how he would have felt if someone had abused Jace that way, and vowed that nothing bad would ever happen to either of his little brothers from now on.

Eventually Jake figured out that he wasn't quite as straight as he'd proclaimed, but it wasn't Dominic that he had his first sexual encounter with, it was Fred. In fact, he and Fred became regulars, and it didn't take long for Dan and Rick to notice the new alignment.

"I guess I was wrong about Jace and Fred," Rick said, "looks like Fred and Jake are an item though."

"Yeah, but I can't help but wonder. If Jace and Fred did mess around, how must Jace feel now? What if he feels like Fred used him and then moved on, or something like that?"

"Why don't you talk to him?"

"I might. I don't want him to think that what he did was bad, especially if he had feelings for Fred."

"Why don't you go talk to him now? I'm sure he's not asleep yet."

"Good idea," Dan said, slipping on shorts and a tee shirt. Though the boys often went around naked, the adults always wore some kind of clothing when not in private.

Dan made the short trip down the hall, passing Dommie's room on the way, and he noticed the door was open. Assuming the boy was using the bathroom across the hall, he gave it no further thought. When he reached Jace's room he knocked softly and after a few seconds he heard movement in the room, then Jace's voice.

"Uh, who is it?"

"It's me, Dan," Dan chuckled, "who were you expecting?"

"Oh, no one," Jace said appearing at the door, naked as usual.

"Are you busy? If so this can wait."

"No, not busy...huh uh, why would I be busy?" the boy said opening the door wider to allow Dan to enter.

"No reason, why are you so nervous?" Dan chuckled, "you know I'm cool with you boys and, habits."

"Uh, I'm not nervous," he said looking around as if he were afraid something in the room might give him away.

Dan just shook his head and smiled, "Okay, cool. Sit then. I want to talk to you for a minute."

"Oh, sure...okay, yeah."

"Rick and I were wondering about something," Dan began after sitting down next to the boy, "are you okay? No wait, that's a dumb question. Let me try again. Rick and I are worried that you might be upset that Fred and Jake are together now."

"Why would I be?" Jake said looking confused, "we're not boyfriends or anything. We just had some fun, that's all."

Dan felt relief wash over him at the boys casual appraisal of the situation, but even if it had only been casual sex, wouldn't Jace feel a little hurt or left out now?

"So, you don't feel cheated or left out now?"

"Naw, not really," Jace said shrugging, "I'm okay, but thanks for asking."

"Okay, that's great, but you know if you do ever have any feelings that you can't handle, you can come to us, right?"

"Yeah, I know, thanks," the boy said looking thoughtful, "there is something else I'd like to talk to you about though," he said looking worried now.

"Okay, shoot buddy. You know I'm here for you no matter what."

"Is it okay for a boy my age to, a boy that's younger? You know? in a sexy way?"

"Well, that would depend on the other boy's age," Dan said, suddenly sure he knew where this was headed, "if it's only a few years then I think it's fine. Now, if the boy was younger than that, it probably wouldn't be a good idea."

"Oh, okay, thanks," Jace said sounding happy.

"So, is there some reason you asked that question?"

"Oh yeah, right. I asked cause Dommie and I are boyfriends now," he said cheekily, "you can come out now Dommie," he giggled, and a second later the closet doors opened, and out stepped a naked blushing ten year old boy.

"So that's why you were so nervous," Dan chuckled, "Boys, you have my blessings. There are now four happy couples in this house and things couldn't be better."

"Is it okay if Dommie moves in with me dad?" Jace said, using the word that made Dan smile.

"Yes son, I think that's just fine," he said hugging the boy to him.

"Cool, now we have an empty room, we better see if we can find another boy to join the family."

Life went on, the virus soon became old news, but it had left it's mark on society. People were more aware of how fragile life was, and how easily a situation could get out of hand. Governments worldwide vowed that they would never be caught off guard again, but people have short memories, and politicians are more interested in votes than the truth.

The businesses that didn't survive were missed for a while, but soon they became part of the past, relived only in moments of nostalgia. Sears, the once mighty giant of retail, who was already on it's last leg before the pandemic, closed all locations and they never reopened. There were others that fell by the wayside, but there was one exception that no one dreamed of.

Kmart, which was actually owned by Sears Holdings, not only survived, but came back stronger than ever, giving mighty Walmart a run for it's money. Kmart, which had once been the king of the discounters with over 2,000 stores, had fallen into bankruptcy and despair before the virus, but a resurgence of brick and mortar businesses had been their redemption. It started slowly, but using the resources of the parent company, Sears, already had in place, by year's end, Kmart was reopening stores at a rate of two per month, many of them former Sears locations.

The boys returned to school in the fall of the second year of their new lives with Dan and Rick, and Cody and Archie were now seniors. By keeping up with their studies online, they had passed all the courses required under the new guidelines, but both were eager to get back to the real thing.

The rest of the boys attended middle school, except Dominic, who was just finishing up grade school. Since the schools were close in proximity, most days Dan dropped off and picked up the younger boys, but Cody and Archie were allowed to use one of the three vehicles since they both were licensed drivers now.

Rick was a big help as well. His shop was in town, and he pretty much worked his own schedule and was always available if the younger boys needed a ride. The boys began to make new friends among their classmates, and it wasn't uncommon for the younger boys to have sleepovers, either at their friend's house or their own.

Dan and Rick were a married couple by then, having gotten married on Valentine's day, six months after they had met. As soon as they were back from their short honeymoon in Hawaii, Dan and Rick set about to formally adopt all six of the boys.

Thanks to the new laws making it easier to adopt homeless kids, the adoption was official by July 4th, and the new family celebrated by having a party and inviting as many volunteers and street kids as they could muster. There were fewer kids these days, mainly due to the fact the program was getting them into stable homes, or helping the older ones to find jobs and live independently, but there was still a need, and as long as there was at least one kid who needed help, Dan vowed to be there for them.

The party was catered, and there was a wide variety of food, everything from pizza to home style cooking, as well as a non alcoholic bar which had soft drinks on tap, and there were bottles of sports drinks and juice for the kids. The adults cheated a bit and had champagne, and of course the newly adopted boys were allowed a half glass as well.

There was music, games for all ages, but plenty of opportunity to just visit and have fun. When darkness fell, a professional fireworks company put on a magnificent fireworks show, and even folks in town were able to see much of it.

Afterwards there was ice cream and cake, more drinks, and more socializing until the wee hours of the morning. Since the pool could accommodate only a small number of kids, it was decided that only the younger kids could swim, in 30 minute shifts, with at least two adults or older kids supervising to make sure everyone stayed safe.

Around midnight, a few of the adults began to trickle away, taking with them the kids they had brought with them, and within an hour only a handful of guests remained. Among them Zeke and Marco. The two were still fast friends and were doing well, but in different ways.

Zeke was working for Rick now and was thriving. He was learning code and actually writing his own programs, and Rick had great hopes for him. Marco however, found computers boring and preferred tinkering with cars, and was learning auto body and mechanics. He was in the process of rebuilding a '57 Chevy, and the work was coming along nicely. In the meantime he drove a 15 year old Chevy pickup that he'd put a new motor in.

Marco had come with Zeke however, who drove a nearly new Honda Civic these days, and exuded a sense of success and happiness that was an inspiration to anyone who knew him.

"I'm so happy that you guys are doing so well," Dan said, putting an arm around both boys necks and pulling them into a sideways hug. There was a time when he wouldn't have dared to be this physical with these two boys, but these days they were close friends, and such acts of intimacy were welcomed.

"Well, you might've had something to do with that," Zeke laughed, "Seriously, Dan..." the boy said, looking quite emotional, "you have changed a lot of kid's lives."

"I didn't do it alone," Dan reminded them, "you guys stepped up and did your part, heck, all the kids did. It was an amazing thing to watch. I don't know if the other programs have had as many success stories as ours, but I am blown away by the way things have turned out for these kids. These kids that no one wanted, who were abused and tossed out, beaten up, but not beaten down," Dan said using the slogan he'd coined during the early days of the program, "Kids like Cody, and Jace, and Archie, and Fred, and little Dommie, and you are the success stories that give me hope when I'm down, and joy that never dies. Thank you guys for all you've done and all you continue to do. You're my brothers, I mean that from the bottom of my heart," Dan said wiping at tears.

Zeke grabbed Dan and pulled him into a full body hug, and Marco wormed in and hugged them both from the side, "We did good," Zeke sniffed, "we all did, and it ain't over yet."

"So, I heard you had a girlfriend," Dan said grinning, when the moment had passed and the hug was broken.

"Yeah, her name is Kara, she's awesome," Zeke said grinning.

"She's too pretty for an ugly guy like you," Marco teased.

"You're just jealous," Zeke laughed, "Don't worry bro, you'll find you a girl someday."

Marco sighed, "Better be soon, my hand just ain't cuttin' it lately."

"Well, you can always try goin' gay," Zeke joked.

"I might have to," Marco laughed, "seems like the gay boys always got someone to play with."

"Not always," Dan said seriously, "look how long it took me to find the man of my dreams."

"I'm talking about sex, not love," Marco laughed, "seems like gay guys are more willing to help a guy out without any strings."

"Well, I won't deny that some gay guys are only looking for sex, but be careful, you might just fall in love," Dan teased.

"You and Rick look pretty happy," Marco noted.

"We are," Dan gushed, "I never in my life dreamed that I could love someone as much as I love that man."

"Where is he anyway?" Zeke said looking around.

"I'm not sure, I do allow him a certain amount of freedom," Dan chuckled, "I'm sure he's probably spreading good cheer wherever he is."

"He's the best boss anyone could ever ask for," Zeke gushed, "he's so smart, and he never gets upset, even when I screw up bad."

"From what I hear, you don't screw up much. He's always talking about how smart you are, and how you never give up."

"Don't get jealous," Zeke teased, "it's strictly business."

"I know that," Dan chuckled, "his tastes in men are very similar to mine, and I don't find you attractive at all," Dan teased.

"I'm crushed," Zeke said, feigning hurt.

"Okay, so maybe I do find you attractive and sexy, but in a good way. I can appreciate that beauty and sexiness without needing to experience it."

"I know, I'm just kidding. Besides, I like the ladies."

"And I hope you find the right one and settle down someday, but don't give up if the first one isn't the right one."

"I know, but I gotta' start somewhere."

"Hey, there you are," Rick said approaching the three, "did I miss any lively discussion."

"Yes, we've been discussing how sexy Zeke is and how tempting it must be for you working with him," Dan teased.

Rick snorted, "You are so full of shit. Zeke, what have you been telling my husband?"

"He started it," Zeke said, sounding like a little kid.

Rick laughed, "You two, seriously though, Zeke is one in a million. Before long he'll be teaching me programming."

"Aw, I'm not that good, but it's fun and interesting. I like that you can write a program and then see it come to life."

"He's a natural," Rick said stifling a yawn.

"Tired babe?" Dan said, slipping an arm around Rick's waist.

"A little, but it's been fun tonight."

"Hey, we should go," Zeke said then, "we're keeping you guys up. I think everyone else has gone."

"Well, I won't beg you to stay," Dan said smiling, "but I do hope you'll come back soon."

"Just say when," Zeke said, "where are your boys, I wanna' tell em' goodnight."

"Probably in the pool," Dan said, "and probably butt naked if I know them like I think I do."

"Nothing wrong with that," Marco said grinning, "I'd swim naked too if I had a place like this, far from everyone and so private."

"Yeah, and it's not just in the pool. Those guys are becoming nudists, I swear they're naked more than they're clothed, especially since it's gotten warm."

"Do you and Rick run around naked too?" Marco asked, sounding interested.

"No, we decided that it was one thing to have the boys go native, but we feel like it's best if we don't flaunt our manhood," Dan chuckled.

"Too bad," Marco said, "I bet you both look good in the nude."

"Why Marco, are you flirting?"

"Won't do me no good," the boy said looking defeated, "I know you two are in love big time."

"We sure are, and I hope you experience that joy someday soon," Dan said giving Marco a warm smile.

When everyone was gone, Rick and Dan shooed the boys off to bed, and headed up to their room. Once inside, they undressed each other and headed to the bathroom to shower together. Later in bed, after an especially energetic love making session the two lover snuggled and engaged in pillow talk.

"Tonight was wonderful," Rick sighed, "I'm so happy that the boys are really ours now.

"Yeah, but nothing has really changed except their names maybe. I've always loved them as if they were mine, right from the beginning. It's strange how naturally that came for someone who had never really been around kids and had no practical experience."

"Some thing just come naturally to us guys, straight or gay. I think the need to be a father is one of those things. Most gay guys never get that opportunity, but things are better now. Gay couples can adopt in most states, and some use surrogate mothers. We're lucky though, you got to choose our boys and I think you did a great job."

"I agree, but sometimes I wonder if our being gay didn't influence our boys to follow that route and never fully explore their options."

Rick chuckled, "Dan, I'm surprised at you. You of all people should know that our sexuality is something we're born with, and no amount of influence from others can change that. No, I believe we were all intended to be gay, and to find one another, and love one another, and as long as the boys are fine with who they are, who are we to question that?"

"Once again, you're right," Dan chuckled.

"I just help you see what you already know," Rick suggested, "we compliment each other, we fit together like Siamese twins," he chuckled.

"Hmmm...we are close, and right now your closeness has my motor running again, are you up for some more loving?"

"I'm always up for some more loving with you," Rick said grinning, "but I want to be on top this time."

The story might have ended here, but there was one more room to fill, and one more homeless kid who needed a home. They hadn't exactly gone looking for someone else to add to the family, but that empty room seemed to speak to them, as if to say...I'm lonely, but that loneliness would soon be over.

It happened in October. The winds had begun to blow cold by then, the leaves forming a beautiful wreath of orange, yellow, and red, that hung around the bases of the trees that once held them, and the kids on the street sought out the food and shelter provided by the organization now known as The Angel Project. It had other names in other cities, but everyone involved thought the name appropriate. It was now officially a non-profit that had been heralded as the definitive rescue program for homeless kids, with many cities now emulating the program with phenomenal success.

The boys were older now, but they still enjoyed helping out at one of the now six locations that fed, clothed and housed the homeless youth, and had expanded to help the adult homeless as well. It was on one such day as this that the boys met Sam.

Cody and Archie were dishing up food on the serving line alongside Dan, while Jace, Fred, and Dommie bused tables or helped keep the line full of hot food. The crowd that day was about average for a weekday, mostly kids, with a few adults, and the mood seemed cheery despite the weather.

When the last of them were fed, Dan and the boys helped the other volunteers clean up, and while Dan had a meeting with the other volunteers, the boys wandered out to the street to get a breath of air. They watched as a few kids sauntered down the street, then suddenly they heard loud voices and what sounded like a scuffle coming from an alleyway just down the street.

"Come on," Cody said taking charge, and the other boys followed quickly.

"Stop, get your hands off me," a young voice said, sounding angry, but a little frightened.

"Shut up slut, you're gonna give up that tail. You been running around here flaunting that young stuff, and I want me some," a man's voice said, filled with lust and desperation.

"Go fuck yourself," the kid snarled, "I'd die before I let you get near me that way."

"You won't die, but you'll wish you had if you don't shut up and give me what I want."

The boys arrived then, and what they saw was a young boy prone on the ground, while a man they guessed to be in his 30's, hovered over him with a foot planted firmly in his chest to hold him down.

"Hey!" Cody shouted, then realizing how stupid that was, he added, "Let him go or you'll be sorry."

"Get out of here, this bitch is mine. I want some of that sweet tail, and I'm gonna get it," the man said pulling out a knife and waving it menacingly.

"Whoa," he has a knife," Archie said, stating the obvious, "Cody be careful."

"I'll cut you, I'll cut all of you," the man said, sounding deranged.

"Just calm down," Cody said, holding his hands out.

The kid on the ground looked up at the group of boys with pleading eyes, but his voice sounded as if he had lost all hope.

"Don't get yourself hurt on my account," the kid said, his voice breaking as tears leaked down his rosy cheeks.

Cody took a moment to look the kid over. Worn dirty jeans, a jacket too light for the weather, also dirty and ripped, holey athletic shoes, short hair that looked dirty and greasy, and frightened eyes set in a face that would be cute if it wasn't in such despair at the moment.

"Archie, call 911," Cody said placing a hand on his boyfriend's chest and pushing him away slightly.

Archie gave him a questioning look but pulled out his phone and began to make the call.

"Cops!" the man erupted, "Cops, cops, cops," he said sounding even more deranged, then seeming to change personality completely, he folded the knife, stuck it back in his pocket and just walked away muttering something unintelligible as he quickly disappeared down the alley.

Archie had finished the call by then, and within minutes a cop car would appear, but in the meantime Cody went to the boy and knelt beside him.

"Dude, are you okay?"

"I think so," the kid said in a weak voice, tinged with an underlying embarrassment.

"What's your name? I'm Cody, that's Archie, Jace, Fred, and Dommie and Jake."

"Sam," the kid said simply.

"Who was that guy?"

"Dunno, I never saw him before today, but I gotta get out of here. I can't be here when the cops get here, they'll haul me off to juvie."

"Naw, they won't. We'll tell them you're one of the kids from the project and they'll be cool."

"Project?" the kid asked looking confused.

"The Angel Project, we feed and clothe the kids and give them a place to live. And a lot of the kids are getting adopted these days thanks to the project."

"I didn't know. I just got here yesterday," the kid said sitting up.

Cody offered a hand up, and the kid accepted. The kid was small and looked underweight, and Cody figured he must be hungry. "After the cops talk to us, we'll go get you something to eat. How does that sound?"

"Okay, but...are you sure the cops won't take me away?"

The cop car pulled up then, and Cody could read the fight or flight look in the kids eyes, and he automatically put an arm around the kid and pulled him into a hug, "It's okay. I promise," he said to the kid, then to his brother, "Jace, go get Dan."

Jace sped off, however one of the cops stopped him, but once he saw who he was, he questioned him only a moment before letting him go. The policemen here all knew Dan and the boys by now, and accepted his explanation without question. They knew Dan quite well, and were relieved that he would be coming to help straighten things out.

The boys quickly filled Lt. Mills in on what had happened, and eventually Jace returned with Dan in tow.

"What's going on? Jace said some kid was assaulted..."

Cody took him aside and filled him in while Lt. Mills questioned Sam, and his partner, Officer Stevens, went looking for the assailant.

"Are you okay Sam?" Cody asked again, then seeing the frightened look in the kid's eyes, he turned to Lt. Mills, "He's afraid you're going to arrest him or drag him off to juvie."

"No Sam, you're not in trouble," the husky man said smiling jovially, "I just need to know who this man is and why he was bothering you so we can find him and make sure he doesn't do the same thing to some other kid."

"I don't know him," Sam said softly, "I just saw him today. He was following me and I tried to lose him by coming down the alley, but he must've followed me. I waited a long time before I came out from behind the dumpster and he was waiting for me. He knocked me down and put his foot in my middle to keep me down. Then they showed up," Sam said pointing, "they tried to talk to him and he pulled a knife on them, but when that one boy called 911 he just ran off."

"Okay, hold on," Lt. Mills said as he turned his head to talk into his chest mounted mic, "You did, great. Bring him back here for a positive ID, and if it's the perp we'll give him a little ride downtown," then turning his attention back to the group, he added, "My partner caught the guy trying to shake down some homeless guy about a block from here. Sounds like the guy might have some mental issues."

"He was telling Sam that he was gonna rape him?" Cody said suddenly, then blushed.

"Him?" the officer chuckled, "Sam, I figure that's your nickname, but what's your given name?" Lt. Mills said grinning. Lt. Mills had figured out the fact that Sam was a she after only a few minutes, but he could see why the boys might have been confused.

"Uh, Samantha," the kid said looking embarrassed, "but I figured if no one knew I was a girl I wouldn't have so much trouble. I guess I was wrong."

"You're a girl?" Jace said smiling, "Cool"

Cody laughed, "Oops, sorry Sam, I just assumed you were a boy. I hope you're not upset with me."

"Naw, it's okay," Sam said smiling weakly.

The other officer arrived then with the man who had attacked Sam in cuffs, and after being identified by each of the boys and Sam he was place in the back seat of the car.

"I'll need to get a statement Sam," Lt. Mills said, "we can do it now and get it over with, or maybe Dan here could bring you down tomorrow and we could do it then, after you've had some time to recover a bit."

"Sam, I'd be glad to do that," Dan assured her, "why don't you come with us and we'll get you some food and a change of clothes? If you don't have a place to sleep tonight we'll take care of that too."

"Okay," Sam said meekly. She had thought she was so tough, and that she could handle things. Pretending to be a boy was genius, or so she'd thought. She'd even cut her hair, and even though she was 12, she'd yet to get breasts, and what she had looked more like mosquito bites than tits. She'd dressed in loose clothes and tried to act like a boy, so how had the man known she was a girl, or was he the kind who didn't care what sex a kid was as long as they were young?

"Okay Dan, how does 11 sound?"

"That's fine Mark," Dan said addressing the man by his first name, "I'll make sure Sam is there and hopefully rested and in better spirits."

"Okay, you kids, you did good. You did exactly what you should have. We're here for all you kids when you have trouble. Never be afraid to call us, we've got your backs."

After everyone thanked the policemen, they waved goodbye watched as they drove away. Sam looked at the others for direction, and suddenly her tummy grumbled noisily causing Jace to laugh.

"I think Sam's tummy is trying to tell us something. Come on Sam, I'm Jace and I'm gonna fix you the best food you ever ate."

Dan smiled at the way Jace was taking charge, and how quickly he'd accepted Sam as a member of the group. It made him wonder if the boy still had some unresolved issues concerning his sexuality, but he need not have worried, what Jace felt for Sam was strictly platonic. He had always wondered what it would be like to have a sister, and he was already working on a plan to get Sam into that empty bedroom back home.

They fed Sam and listened to her story between bites. It was a bit different than some, but typical of others. With Sam the issue wasn't her sexuality, but rather her sex. Her step father couldn't keep his hands off his new step daughter, and it was only a matter of time before he took what he'd been aching for since the day he moved in. She'd tried to talk to her mother, but she was an alcoholic and a heavy drug user, and her advice was to give in and get it over with, and that she might even like it.

The next day, Sam shaved her head, filled her backpack with a few things, donned jeans and a tee shirt, which was her typical dress these days, stole 50 dollars from her mother's purse, and hit the street. That had been two days ago, and she'd found the streets harder than she'd imagined. She had heard of some program that helped street kids, but she was reluctant to approach any of the other kids, so she'd relied on her own resources until she woke up the second day to find her backpack and what little money she had left gone. She'd fought back tears and tried to figure out what to do next. She pulled two dollars and some change from her pocket, but what little food she could buy with it did little to fill her aching stomach.

Then today, she'd been walking along, trying to decide what to do next when she noticed the man following her and if not for the group of boys who came to her rescue, she might very well have wound up giving up what she had ran away from home to avoid giving up.

"Dad?" Jace said giving Dan his puppy dog eyes, "can I talk to you a minute?"

Dan chuckled, he was pretty sure he knew what Jace wanted, but he wanted to hear it from his lips, and assure himself that Jace's only interest was in helping the young girl.

"Dad, we have that spare bedroom..."

Dan laughed, "I thought that might be what you had in mind," then turning serious he went on, "I can't help but wonder son, does your interest in Sam have anything to do with the fact that she's a girl?"

"Well, sure...sisters are always girls," Jace said grinning, "I have always wanted a little sister."

Dan smiled, "Well, don't you think we should ask the others before we decide whether to invite Sam to stay with us?"

"Oh sure, but you know what they'll say dad."

"You're probably right, but I'd feel better if I knew everyone is in agreement. Why don't you go back and keep Sam company and send the others out to talk to me?"

Dan waited patiently, and eventually the other boys arrived and they were all smiling.

"Let me guess," Cody chuckled, "Jace wants Sam to come home with us."

"Yes, what do you boys think? Would having a girl around cramp your style? You might not be able to run around naked if we had a young lady living with us."

Cody frowned, "Why? It's not like we'd molest her or anything. Heck, she can go naked too if she wants."

Dan sighed, "Remember where Sam came from and what she's gone through. Being around a bunch of horny boys, even gay ones, might be a bit rough on her at first, and seeing your, well...boy parts, might be too much for her."

"Cody," Archie said, "if we have to make some changes for a while, wouldn't it be worth it to help Sam out? She's got it rough right now and it's gonna be tough for her if she doesn't get someplace safe. Boys can usually take care of themselves, but girls get raped and stuff...or so I've heard."

Cody looked horrified, "I...I wouldn't want that to happen to anyone, especially Sam. That's what we were trying to stop when we heard her yelling."

"I say we give her a try," Dommie said simply, "if she don't like seeing us naked she can stay out of the pool when we're in there."

"Yeah, I'm in," Fred said, "I knew lots of girls when I was in foster care and they usually adjust to being around boys and stuff without any trouble, and anyway, we're gonna be her brothers, right? And brothers take care of their little sisters."

"Me too," Jake said easily.

"Yeah, brothers," Cody agreed, "Even if we have to start wearing clothes again, I say we let her come live with us if she wants to."

"So, everyone is in agreement then?"

"What do you think dad?" Cody asked, realizing that Dan hadn't offered his opinion yet.

"I think I'd love to have a daughter, but I really need to talk to Rick first. I just wanted to make sure you guys were okay with it. If you guys are really okay with it, I'll call Rick, but I already know what he'll say," he finished grinning.

"Yeah, Rick loves everyone, he'll love Sam the minute he meets her," Archie noted.

"So...shall I call Rick and put him on speaker phone?"

"Yeah dad, do it," Cody said enthusiastically.

"Hello Rick, guess who?"

" daddy?" Rick joked.

"Uh, Rick, the boys are on here too," he said blushing, while the others did their best not to laugh.

"Oh, sorry...scratch that," he said sounding embarrassed.

"We have a situation, you know that spare bedroom? I think we've found someone to fill it..."

Rick listened while Dan and the boys filled him in on how they'd met Sam, and all that had happened, and ended with Jace's request for a little sister.

"So, I brought the other boys in here to see what they thought, and we discussed the ins and outs of having a girl in the house, and the vote was unanimous. Even if it means having to give up nudism they're willing to let Sam come live with us."

"I assume you called to get my vote," Rick chuckled, "so put me down as a yes. I think it would be awesome to have a member of the fairer sex in the house. I assume this girl is housebroken," he teased.

"I think so, but we'll give her a try anyway," Dan laughed, "I love you so much punkin'," he said, then blushed again, "I'll see you later at home, and if Sam agrees to come with us, then I'll introduce you to your new daughter."

"Okay, bye guys...Love ya' guys. I can't wait to meet Sam, she sounds awesome."

"Punkin'?" Cody laughed, and Dan blushed bright red.

They hung up and went back out to join Jace and Sam who were chatting as if they had known each other forever, and Dan relaxed when he saw how comfortable the little girl looked now.

"Well, we took a vote," Dan said winking at Jace, "and it's unanimous, but I'll let Jace tell you what it is we voted on Sam."

Jace smiled, "We want you to come live with us and be our little sister," Jace said, not beating around the bush.

", do you mean?" Sam asked, wondering what the catch was.

"I told you about us Sam," Jace said patiently, "how Dan found me and Cody, then we brought Archie, and Fred, and finally Dommie and Jake to live with us. But we've got this spare bedroom, see, and it could be yours, and you don't gotta share it with anyone, and you can fix it up just like you want, you know? all girly and stuff, and we'll be your big brothers and watch out for you, and Dan and Rick can be your dads too," he rattled off without taking a breath.

"Wait, you have two dads?"

"Oh, I forgot to tell you that, see we're all gay, and we have gay dads too. So, see you don't have to worry that we're gonna molest you or anything, cause me and Dommie are boyfriends, and so is Cody and Archie, and Fred and Jake."

"I...I don't know what to say," the little girl said near tears, "why...why, would you want to help me? You don't even know me?"

"Cause you were supposed to be the one," Jace said simply, "that room has been empty all this time cause it was waiting for just the right person to come along, and you are. Maybe God sent ya'. Do you believe in God? Cause I do. I think God sent Dan to help me and Cody, and all the other kids, that's why we call it the Angel project, that, and because Dan says all the kids are angels, but I think Dan is an angel too."

Sam was sobbing quietly now, and Jace got up and moved over and sat beside her and slipped an arm around her.

"It's okay to cry. We cried too when we found out that someone really loved us," he said wiping at his own tears as he stared across at Dan who was a little weepy himself, "We love you," he said boldly, "and we wanna take care of ya' and have you be our sister forever."

"Okaaaayyyy," she hiccuped, "I guess I can go with you," she said wiping her tears on the back of her arm, "I got nowhere else to go anyway."

"Cool, let's go then. I can't wait to show you your room, and we'll help you fix it up just like you want, right Dad?"

"You bet. We'll let Sam decide what she wants, and us guys will make it happen."

The ride back to the house was a joyous one. Despite any misgivings the other boys might have had earlier, they were completely on board now that they had seen how grateful Sam was, and what a sweet kid she was. All of the boys felt protective of her already, and their feelings would only grow as time went on.

They celebrated that night when Rick got home, but by ten o'clock Sam's eyelids were drooping and she was fighting hard to stay awake.

"Sam, sweetie, do you want to go to bed now?" Rick asked. He'd taken to the cute little girl right off, and was looking forward to helping Dan give her a loving home and family.

"Is it okay?"

"Of course Sam," Dan said smiling, "it's been a busy day and you must be exhausted. I think we could all use a good night's sleep. Do you want us to tuck you in?" he asked, unsure if the girl felt comfortable enough with them to allow that bit of intimacy.

"Okay, but you don't have to," she said shyly.

"I'm sorry sweetie, I don't have any PJs or a gown for you to sleep in, but I'll round you up some shorts and a tee. How does that sound?"

"That's fine. I usually just sleep in my panties," she said, then blushed.

Jace giggled, "That's more than we sleep in, we go nekkid."

"Jace," Dan scolded, "Sam doesn't need to know about your sleeping habits."

"It's okay. I used to do that too...till my step dad started coming into my room at night."

"Well, don't worry sweetie, no one will be coming into your room. In fact, there's a lock on the door and I want you to use it if you feel you need to."

"I trust all of you," she said stifling another yawn, "I should go to bed now..."

Dan and Rick escorted the little girl upstairs, and Dommie ran off to find her some of his things for her to wear since they were near enough the same size. Dan suggested she go into the bathroom to change, and when she returned dressed in the shorts and tee Dommie had provided, she looked happy but tired.

The room was minimally furnished now, with a bed, night stand, and dresser, but once Sam got settled in they'd finish decorating to suit her and make it her own personal space.

Climbing into bed, Sam stretched out and pulled the covers up to her middle. Dan bent down and pulled the covers up to her chin and kissed her on the forehead, then Rick took his turn, adjusting the covers and placing a second kiss on her forehead.

"Do you do this to the boys too?" she asked softly, looking sleepy-eyed and ready to crash.

"We did at first," Dan confessed, "and I miss it. They're getting to old for tucking in I guess, or it's just that they feel more secure and don't need it as much."

"I'll always let you tuck me in," she said smiling, and Dan nodded, the lump in his throat choking back any attempt to speak at the moment. Finally, he was able to swallow down the lump and speak, "We'll always be there as long as you need us. Good night sweetie, sleep tight."

"Good night," the little girl muttered, but she was already drifting off to dreamland.

Despite being the only female in the family of eight males, Sam adjusted quickly and soon got used to the habits of the males. The boys went back to wearing swim trunks in the pool, and made sure they had at least shorts on when not in their rooms, but they didn't seem to mind this little inconvenience. They were all crazy about their new little sister and spoiled her every chance they got. Sam tried not to take advantage of them, but it was hard not to accept their small acts of kindness.

One day, about a month after coming to live with the boys, Dan took her into town to see the doctor. It was a routine checkup, but lately Sam had begun to see some changes in her body and she was concerned. She need not have worried, the changes were all natural and normal, the result of the onset of puberty, and the doctor was able to assure her that all was well.

On the way home Sam seemed quieter than usual and Dan engaged her in conversation in the hopes of pulling her out of her funk.

"You're just becoming a young lady Sam, this should be a happy time for you," Dan said. As Sam's legal guardian, Dan had been informed of the test results and the concerns Sam had, and he was pleased to hear that everything was fine.

"Now it's gonna ruin everything. The guys treated me like I was one of them, but they'll treat me different just cause I have boobs" she said sighing.

Dan wanted to laugh, but he kept a straight face as he replied, "Aren't you being a little unfair to your brothers? They love you, and I don't think this will make any difference. Well, they might be even more protective of you now that the boys will start to notice you at school," Dan added with a grin, "but they've all gone through this puberty thing and they understand. It's not easy for a boy either you know? Hair in places they never had it before, their voice changing, growing everywhere all at once," he laughed.

Sam smiled, "Sometimes I wish I was a boy. They got it so easy."

"Oh, well...I don't know about easy, but I guess we do all right once things get settled."

"I guess I sort of like being a girl though. I mean I...I like boys, and I want to have a boyfriend some day."

"Well, as beautiful and sweet as you are, I don't think you'll have any problem finding one, but we'll all have to approve of him first," Dan teased.

"Oh Dad, I wouldn't choose anyone you guys didn't like."

"I know sweetie," Dan said smiling. He never got tired of hearing that word, dad.

"Can I ask you a question dad?"

"Sure honey, what's on your mind?"

"Before I came to live with you guys, did you do stuff different? I mean did you change things just cause I'm a girl?"

"Well, I can't say that Rick and I changed anything, but we sure do like having a sweet little girl to pamper and tuck in at night," Dan said smiling.

"What about the boys?"

"Maybe you should ask them."

"I've tried, and they say no, but I think they're just trying to be nice and not hurt my feelings," she said frowning.

"Well, there is one thing," Dan said, "but don't tell them I told you this, okay?"

"I promise dad," she said giving him her full attention.

"Well, the boys not only slept in the nude before you came, they swam that way too, and sometimes forgot to put on clothes around the house. I'd begun to think they were becoming nudists. Rick and I have always felt more comfortable clothed, and the boys didn't try to change our minds, but they enjoyed going native every chance they got."

"I thought that might be it," she said thoughtfully, "I want them to go back to doing whatever they did before," she added frowning, "It's not fair that I made them change. Anyway, I don't care. I'm not afraid to see a naked boy," she added laughing, "and they're my brothers, so no one is gonna get turned on, right?"

Dan sighed, "Not turned on maybe, but boys...well, boys tend to get..."

"Boners?" Sam finished, "I know, and that's okay. I might look just cause I'm curious, but not cause I wanna mess with em'."

"Well, I'm going to tell you the same thing I've always told the boys, whatever you guys work out is fine by me and Rick. If you're comfortable with the boys going native, then I'm fine with it too, but...they will probably feel more comfortable about being in their skin if you do it too."

"Oh, sure, I will, but I just hope they don't stare at my boobs," she said squeezing the little lumps that had seemingly appeared overnight and laughing."

"Your brothers are gay, but they may do some staring at first, till they get used to you, and I'm sure it will be the same way with you."

"Yeah, I think so too. So, how can I show them I'm okay with them skinny dipping without ratting you out?"

Dan smiled, "Well, next time you kids go swimming why don't you just lead the way."

Sam giggled, "Imagine the look on their faces when I come out of the pool house naked and jump in. Oh man, I can't wait."

Meanwhile back at the house, the boys were taking advantage of Sam's absence and went naked that afternoon in the pool. Archie and Cody were smooching and pressing their hard boy parts together, but the younger boys were more interested in swimming and horsing around while they had the opportunity.

"What time are they supposed to be back?" Archie asked as he nuzzled Cody's ear.

"Don't worry, dad said they'd be gone almost all day."

"Cool, race ya' to the end of the pool," Archie said giggling.

"Butt munch, you got me all worked up, and now you wanna swim. Okay chicken shit...I'll collect later, after I beat your sorry ass."

Archie stuck out his tongue, but soon they were off, and he was busy trying to breathe as he swam his hardest in an attempt to win the race. Cody won however, then flipped around and started back. He was just reaching the shallow end when the back door opened and Sam appeared. She took one look at the six naked boys in the pool and laughed.

"Well, this might be a good time to tell you guys that I'm okay with you guys being naked, and to prove it...," she said as she began to strip off her clothes, "I'll join you."

Twelve eyes were on her every move, but once she was undressed and their curiosity satisfied, they invited her in, and she soon joined their fun. Sam did some looking of her own, but just as the boys had satisfied their curiosity, so did she, and soon they were all comfortable being naked together. There was nothing sexual about it, and the occasional boner was usually induced by the touches of one of the other boys, most notably the boyfriends, and Sam soon learned to ignore them.

Rick was amused to come home to find the seven kids lounging in the nude, laughing and talking while they enjoyed a snack, and Dan just shrugged.

"It was Sam's idea," he began, and then he filled Rick in on what led up to the impromptu naked pool party.

"Sometimes I think we're being old and stodgy by not following their example," Rick said sighing.

Dan cocked an eyebrow, "I will if you will," he challenged, and Rick hesitated only a second before accepting the challenge.

Dan followed him into the water, and the kids, who hadn't noticed the two getting undressed, nearly choked when they saw two tanned adult behinds hit the water.

"Okay dads!" the kids all cheered, "it's naked pool time," they said as they joined the adults.

"You're right," Dan said as Cody and Jace floated nearby, "being naked in the pool is fun."


The kids thrived, and Dan and Rick grew closer as time went by. They knew that the seven kids, six boys and one girl, would someday grow up and move on, but there would always be more street kids who needed help. Maybe they wouldn't adopt any more kids, but they kept an open mind about that. What they could do was keep the program going and continue to volunteer their time and money.

Meanwhile, they still had seven kids to feed, and clothe, and love, and nurture, but that was an easy task. They loved each of the kids equally, but there was just something about sweet little Sam that really brought out their parenting instincts. She was fourteen when she found her first boyfriend, and true to her word she'd picked someone she knew everyone would approve of. His name was Ben, and he was a polite and thoughtful young man whose parents seemed to be nice people as well, and didn't have an issue with Sam having two dads.

Jace and Dommie, and Cody and Archie were still an item, however Jake finally decided he liked girls, but Fred took it well. Fred soon found a boy at school who he fell madly in love with and was happy to just have Jake as a brother now. Jake began dating girls then, but nothing serious had happened so far.

Zeke attended school in the evenings and continued to work for Rick full time with the hope of someday becoming a partner in the business, and Rick assured him it was only a matter of time. He was dating a girl named Linda now, but neither was ready to commit to anything more than a casual romance.

Marco met and married a young Hispanic girl named Tina, and six months later they welcomed a son, Miguel, into the world. No one cared that the baby was obviously conceived before the two were married, least of all Dan and Rick, who became the boy's godfathers and spoiled him rotten.

There were fewer kids on the street now, but there was still a need, and The Angel Project continued to feed, clothe, and provide shelter to these vulnerable members of society who up until now had had no one to take care of them. The virus was old news now, but the world was a different place now, people were connecting again, and with that connection came a new philosophy. The people of the world had come to realize that despite our differences we were all neighbors, and all had one thing in common, our need to be needed. Volunteer organizations were springing up like wildfire and no cause went unheeded.

It was a better world somehow, but the strives mankind had made were tainted by the bittersweet knowledge that so many had died because of our failure to be prepared, and not recognize the threat before it was too late. And so it was with Dan and Rick, who had found great happiness and the love of their kids, and they hated to think that if not for the virus, none of that might have ever happened.

Karma or luck or divine intervention, whatever one believed in, was certainly at work in their lives, and each new day they thanked that force in their own way and embraced what they had been given.

The End

Rob Warr


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